To an 18-year-old on his first international mission trip the scene was surreal, like something from television or straight out of National Geographic. After spending several days in a Southeast Asia country seeking to share the gospel and build relationships, Jamie Buckley and the team from Old Town Baptist Church in Winston-Salem headed to a predominantly Buddhist fisherman’s village off the coast.
Within seconds it seemed like 100 people surrounded the team. Some in the village had never seen anyone with light skin.
The team’s translator said they could not share the gospel in this particular village, so they headed farther away from the village to a beach. Several teenagers from the village joined them.
After wading through waist-deep water to get there, the team found themselves on a beautiful beach. Buckley found himself faced with the very opportunity he prayed would come on this trip.
Buckley wanted to share the gospel with at least one person his age. That day on the beach, Buckley shared the gospel with teenagers from the village, and four prayed to receive Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior.
“God answered my prayer beyond what I prayed for. He multiplied the opportunities and allowed me to see Him at work,” Buckley said.
The trip to Southeast Asia included times of teaching and equipping with national believers and leaders, and also several days in an area of the country home to many “T” people. Very little is known about the T people (name changed for security reasons), an unengaged, unreached people group with no church planting strategy and less than 2 percent evangelical presence. Previously it was thought that the T people numbered about 100,000, but so far research indicates that their population is more than 300,000, and more are expected to be identified.
Mark Harrison, missions pastor at Old Town, said only about 50 T people have been identified as believers in Jesus Christ. Around this time last year Harrison began praying about how Old Town could get involved in reaching an unengaged, unreached people group with the gospel of Jesus Christ. A year later, Old Town’s journey has brought them all the way from Winston-Salem to Southeast Asia.
Harrison said the trip to Southeast Asia proved more fruitful than he could ever have imagined. “Just by showing up, God led us to the next person and the next person we needed to meet,” he said. “God is lining things up for us.” The team engaged T people in evangelistic conversations, and although most had never heard the gospel, the team experienced firsthand their receptivity to the truth.
One day Harrison and several other team members stopped at a Christian cemetery and met the caretaker of the cemetery. “I asked the man if he knew what the cross on the tombs meant. He said he thought it was some kind of good luck charm,” Harrison said.
Harrison shared with the man – who is among the T people – what it means to know Jesus Christ. “The man prayed to receive Jesus Christ as his Savior,” Harrison said.
The trip was marked with stories just like that; stories of God bringing people into their path who needed to hear the gospel. The team also met national believers who want to help make disciples among the T people.
“We got this sense that, for the T people, their time is now. Their time for salvation is here,” Harrison said. “This is the most exciting, and intimidating thing I’ve ever done.”
After the trip Old Town committed to praying 40 days for the T people. During this time they are also praying for God to affirm this sense of calling to serve among the T people, and to help them discern exactly how to do that.
“We want to see the T people effectively reached through the generations,” Harrison said. To do that, benchmarks must be set throughout the process in order to maintain momentum, while at the same time leaving the commitment open-ended.
“We want to engage this people group until the Great Commission is fulfilled; until they are making disciples who are making disciples,” he said.
Harrison continues to keep the T people before the Old Town congregation and continues to share with them how God is at work in this journey. “The congregation must own it,” he said. “We have to empower people to have ownership of what we’re doing.”
Harrison wants to see other North Carolina Baptist churches across the state work together to fulfill the Great Commission by embracing unengaged, unreached people groups. Through the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina he is working with the Office of Great Commission Partnerships to help create a Global Impact Network for churches wanting to work with the T people or other similar people groups in the area. The journey to embrace an unengaged, unreached people group continues to challenge – and remind – Old Town leadership that everything the church does must be focused on God’s Kingdom, and on intentionally sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ.
To learn more about engaging an unreached people group, visit ncbaptist.org/gcp.